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Congratulations Are In Order

In case you hadn't noticed, we are winning the war in Iraq, or so says President Bush. Presumably, that makes us freer and more secure than we were before. And what of the secret surveillance of our telephone calls and emails, Mr. President? Is that an increase in liberty?

Last week, The New York Times reported that the administration had authorized eavesdropping on American citizens since shortly after 9/11. Oh, don't worry about chatting with Aunt Mary over in Toledo during the holidays. The government is only interested in communications reaching overseas, and one need chat about more than recipes for apple pie. Our government eavesdrop only on suspected terrorists, or so we are told.

News that the administration viewed the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement as a mere option did not surprise me. We have detained people indefinitely without trial and scoffed at international law. Why not thumb our nose at the Constitution, too? Better dead than red, we said years ago. Now we assert there can be no error in the war on terror.

No, what stunned me wasn't the fact that the President of the United States can order that intelligence agents break the law. And I was not surprised that administration toadies will carry out these orders.

What stunned me was that The New York Times, a paper which proclaims that it will report "All the news that is fit to print," sat on this story for one year. Why? The administration asked that it do so. And when the paper finally reported the story, it still withheld details and names of those who stood by while the president violated the law. Call the editors victims of the war on terror.

Franz Fanon once wrote a little book entitled The Wretched of the Earth.  Terror, he noted, was a useful political tool in the hands of the powerless. Make a people fearful, undermine their confidence, and they will turn on themselves and their values. A terrorist needn't command a nation, he need only strike a responsiveness enough chord to make a people forget themselves and their values.

That's what the terrorists who destroyed the World Trade Center did. Let's add this name to the roll of those felled on 9/11: Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, Jr.

So today we awaken to a world in which the president can appear on television to tell us we are winning a war amid the severed limbs and shattered lives of daily suicide bombings. And this president seeks to secure broader powers at home, all the better to protect us. Death becomes victory and governmental power is liberty.

The president tells us military commanders in Iraq report that we are winning. I guess the art of declaring victory is a lot like the art of war, an opaque and esoteric enterprise understood only to those practiced in skills the rest of us do not possess.

I am not feeling very triumphant today. A Constitution I revere is being mauled by a man who swore an oath to uphold it. And most Americans think that's just fine and dandy. Congratulations, to the terrorists on a job well done.